Vol. 17 No. 2 (2022)

Cryptic diversity in pygmy chameleons (Chamaeleonidae: Rhampholeon) of the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, with description of six new species

Michele Menegon
Division of Biology & Conservation Ecology, School of Science & the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom; PAMS Foundation, P.O. Box 16556, Arusha, Tanzania.
John V. Lyakurwa
Department of Sustainable Agriculture and Biodiversity Ecosystem Management, Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Arusha, Tanzania; Department of Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, University of Dar es Salaam, P.O.Box, 35064, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Simon P. Loader
Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK
Krystal A. Tolley
South African National Biodiversity Institute, Kirstenbosch Research Centre, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa; Centre for Ecological Genomics and Wildlife Conservation, Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park 2000, Johannesburg, South Africa

Published 2022-11-02


  • Afromontane,
  • biodiversity,
  • East Africa,
  • chameleons,
  • new species,
  • reptiles
  • ...More

How to Cite

Menegon, M., Lyakurwa, J. V., Loader, S. P., & Tolley, K. A. (2022). Cryptic diversity in pygmy chameleons (Chamaeleonidae: Rhampholeon) of the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, with description of six new species. Acta Herpetologica, 17(2), 85–113. https://doi.org/10.36253/a_h-12978


Previous molecular phylogenetic studies of pygmy chameleons have identified several cases of undescribed cryptic diversity of species, some of which have remained undescribed due to a lack of morphological information. Here, we combine descriptive morphology with principal component analysis, to quantify the overall morphological variation, and phylogenetic analysis to describe six new species of Rhampholeon from the Eastern Arc Mountains, including populations found in the Udzungwa, Rubeho, Nguru, Ukaguru, and Nguu Mountains. From our study we detected only limited morphometric variation between species. We distinguish the new species using genetics, combined with assessment of morphological features, and their geographical distribution. We highlight the threats to pygmy chameleons in East Africa from habitat change and exporting live specimens for the wildlife trade. Based on our understanding, we note a few species that we consider at risk of decline – mainly based on their narrow distribution and their apparent popularity in the export market. This study also further underlines the extraordinary biological value of the relatively small forest patches (less than 3000 km2) of the Eastern Arc, which contain more species of chameleons than any other area in mainland Africa.


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